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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I love hell. I can't wait to get back there."
Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul to Mexico, is a prisoner of alcoholism. A victim of the shakes, he hears voices, talks to people who are not there, and hallucinates, though he is often able to hide the extent of his drinking. "True, he might lie down in the street, but he would never reel." On The Day of the Dead in 1938, his recently divorced wife...
Published on 4 Jan 2006 by Mary Whipple

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition is unreadable!
I read Under the Volcano years ago and loved it then. So I was looking forward to reading it again on my new Kindle. But the Kindle edition has not been produced to an acceptable professional standard. I am most irritated by the changing size of the typeface and the equally variable line spacing. Most of it is close to large print, meaning you get about two paragraphs per...
Published on 1 April 2012 by GWW


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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I love hell. I can't wait to get back there.", 4 Jan 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul to Mexico, is a prisoner of alcoholism. A victim of the shakes, he hears voices, talks to people who are not there, and hallucinates, though he is often able to hide the extent of his drinking. "True, he might lie down in the street, but he would never reel." On The Day of the Dead in 1938, his recently divorced wife Yvonne returns to Quauhnahuac, over which two smoking volcanoes loom, to try to persuade him to reconcile.
Coincidentally, Geoffrey's half-brother Hugh, with whom Yvonne apparently had a brief affair, also arrives that day, and the three share quarters, each hoping to recapture the past. When they take the bus to Tomalin to a bull-riding event, they see a wounded peasant dying beside the road, the peasant's horse with the number 7 branded on its rump, a tricky pesado, and a group of vigilantes, all of whom play a role in the climax which follows.
Rich with details, both of the external world of Quauhnahuac and the internal world of Geoffrey, the novel, first published in 1947, reflects Lowry's own experiences as an alcoholic. Geoffrey, a fully-rounded character, knows that he must stop drinking in order to function effectively, but he is unable to function at all without drinking. He both loves and despises Yvonne, wants to leave Mexico but wants to stay, and wants to find peace but creates chaos.
As Lowry reconstructs this one day in Geoffrey's life, the Day of the Dead, the pervasive symbolism adds to the feeling of overpowering doom--the smoking volcanoes ready to erupt, the "hideous pariah dog" that follows Geoffrey and Yvonne to the house, a barranca (chasm) which exists beside the house and which contains a dead dog, an Indian carrying "the weight of the past," vultures in the forest, Yvonne's release of an eagle in a cage, and sudden storms. All add weight and intensity to this powerful story of dissolution.
Despite the depressing subject matter and a frustrating main character who cannot or will not help himself during the novel's four hundred pages, the novel is breath-taking--elegant both in language and construction. Carefully plotted, filled with unique imagery, and enhanced by symbolism which brings it alive on new levels, it overwhelms the reader with its impact and approaches classical tragedy as the inevitable, doom-filled events play out. Though the novel includes peripheral political issues of the day--Mexico's instability and the philosophical conflicts between fascism and socialism--it is primarily a variation on the story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man--full, rich, dense, and rewarding, despite its pervasive sadness. Mary Whipple
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "He might lie down in the street, but he would never reel.", 25 Mar 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul to Mexico, is a prisoner of alcoholism. A victim of the shakes, he hears voices, talks to people who are not there, and hallucinates, though he is often able to hide the extent of his drinking. "True, he might lie down in the street, but he would never reel." On The Day of the Dead in 1938, his recently divorced wife Yvonne returns to Quauhnahuac, over which two smoking volcanoes loom, to try to persuade him to reconcile.
Coincidentally, Geoffrey's half-brother Hugh, with whom Yvonne apparently had a brief affair, also arrives that day, and the three share quarters, each hoping to recapture the past. When they take the bus to Tomalin to a bull-riding event, they see a wounded peasant dying beside the road, the peasant's horse with the number 7 branded on its rump, a tricky pesado, and a group of vigilantes, all of whom play a role in the climax which follows.
Rich with details, both of the external world of Quauhnahuac and the internal world of Geoffrey, the novel, first published in 1947, reflects Lowry's own experiences as an alcoholic. Geoffrey, a fully-rounded character, knows that he must stop drinking in order to function effectively, but he is unable to function at all without drinking. He both loves and despises Yvonne, wants to leave Mexico but wants to stay, and wants to find peace but creates chaos.
As Lowry reconstructs this one day in Geoffrey's life, the Day of the Dead, the pervasive symbolism adds to the feeling of overpowering doom--the smoking volcanoes ready to erupt, the "hideous pariah dog" that follows Geoffrey and Yvonne to the house, a barranca (chasm) which exists beside the house and which contains a dead dog, an Indian carrying "the weight of the past," vultures in the forest, Yvonne's release of an eagle in a cage, and sudden storms. All add weight and intensity to this powerful story of dissolution.
Despite the depressing subject matter and a frustrating main character who cannot or will not help himself during the novel's four hundred pages, the novel is breath-taking--elegant both in language and construction. Carefully plotted, filled with unique imagery, and enhanced by symbolism which brings it alive on new levels, it overwhelms the reader with its impact and approaches classical tragedy as the inevitable, doom-filled events play out. Though the novel includes peripheral political issues of the day--Mexico's instability and the philosophical conflicts between fascism and socialism--it is primarily a variation on the story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man--full, rich, dense, and rewarding, despite its pervasive sadness. Mary Whipple
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Advise My Best Friends Never to Read the Volcano, 30 Aug 2008
By 
James Morton "armadale" (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
It is my belief that Malcolm Lowry wrote the last chapter of this novel (12) some time before the other chapters (1-11), and my advice is to begin reading the Volcano with the last chapter - (but who am I to give advice? - Lowry himself suggested that this book required twenty readings, and I have read it only a dozen times.) To a "new" reader, it might be best to begin by reading the novel at Chapter Twelve, the end. And another thing: Lowry read this entire monstrosity aloud, mostly to his long-suffering wife and his few friends; every single word of this novel is spoken; so try this and take turns with your guy or gal - eventually, I hope, you will tune-in to the author's voice, and I hope that it is the distinct voice of the book that will carry you through all of its tragic pages. And yet another thing: why not read the Chapters in reverse order? Malcolm Lowry does not care how you approach his novel - he's dead! - and maybe he did not have much talent as a writer, but I feel that Malc has lovingly stuffed the Volcano with so much stuff, that the novel assumes some sort of organic life of its own, with internal organs and the means to travel from A to B, or from B to A, such that one might be inclined to take it for a walk on a leash, if only to frighten the neighbours.
Will this novel still be read 50 or 100 years from now, along with "Heart of Darkness", "Cannery Row" and "Catch-22"?? on an i-thing? - who can tell. I'll be dead by then myself, so I hardly care. This book has so much life in it that it has become a valued friend to me, even when I hate it. It will be inside my box when the flames consume me. "Can one be faithful to Yvonne and the Farolito both?" - you decide, and then send me the answer on a postcard.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I am very much interested in insanes", 13 Aug 2009
By 
Catherine Murphy "drcath" (Norway) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Malcolm Lowry belongs to the small and exclusive club of "one-hit" authors, other members including Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and arguably, Richard (Revolutionary Road) Yates. True, Lowry did write other fiction, but nothing on the grand, macabre scale of this work.

Geoffrey Firmin, ex consul and alcoholic is joined in the Mexican town of Quauhnahuac (a name devised especially to torment critics who must type it) by his ex-wife Yvonne and half brother Hugh. She is hoping for a reconciliation, Hugh is stopping by as part of a longer journey. It is the Day of the Dead and in the small town, which lies in the shadow of two volcanoes, Firmin drinks, reminisces and wanders inexorably towards tragedy.

It's not an easy book to read and not an easy book to rate. Lowry's prose is evocative to the point of becoming purple and his lengthy digressions into the thoughts of each of his characters can become distracting. But stick with it and this book is fantastically rewarding. No one else has managed to capture the labyrinthine workings of the human mind with such precision: the evasions, the self deceptions, the irrelevant musings, the sudden moments of clarity. The main character, Firmin, is brilliantly drawn - a shambling wreck of a man who wants to deserve his wife, but knows he can't. Followed everywhere by pariah dogs, Firmin is rotting from the inside out. He's already dead in a spiritual sense and all that keeps him together is mescal and a sense he still represents human decency in a country which is struggling not to collapse into lawlessness. It's a magnificent, terrifying portrait - terrifying because it makes a compelling case that none of us are more than a collection of ideas and memories, doomed to insignificance and ultimate disintegration. It's a bleak, blackly humorous world picture, but one well worth experiencing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I love hell. I can't wait to get back there.", 2 Jun 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Under the Volcano (Hardcover)
Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul to Mexico, is a prisoner of alcoholism. A victim of the shakes, he hears voices, talks to people who are not there, and hallucinates, though he is often able to hide the extent of his drinking. "True, he might lie down in the street, but he would never reel." On The Day of the Dead in 1938, his recently divorced wife Yvonne returns to Quauhnahuac, over which two smoking volcanoes loom, to try to persuade him to reconcile.

Coincidentally, Geoffrey's half-brother Hugh, with whom Yvonne apparently had a brief affair, also arrives that day, and the three share quarters, each hoping to recapture the past. When they take the bus to Tomalin to a bull-riding event, they see a wounded peasant dying beside the road, the peasant's horse with the number 7 branded on its rump, a tricky pesado, and a group of vigilantes, all of whom play a role in the climax which follows.

Rich with details, both of the external world of Quauhnahuac and the internal world of Geoffrey, the novel, first published in 1947, reflects Lowry's own experiences as an alcoholic. Geoffrey, a fully-rounded character, knows that he must stop drinking in order to function effectively, but he is unable to function at all without drinking. He both loves and despises Yvonne, wants to leave Mexico but wants to stay, and wants to find peace but creates chaos.

As Lowry reconstructs this one day in Geoffrey's life, the Day of the Dead, the pervasive symbolism adds to the feeling of overpowering doom--the smoking volcanoes ready to erupt, the "hideous pariah dog" that follows Geoffrey and Yvonne to the house, a barranca (chasm) which exists beside the house and which contains a dead dog, an Indian carrying "the weight of the past," vultures in the forest, Yvonne's release of an eagle in a cage, and sudden storms. All add weight and intensity to this powerful story of dissolution.

Despite the depressing subject matter and a frustrating main character who cannot or will not help himself during the novel's four hundred pages, the novel is breath-taking--elegant both in language and construction. Carefully plotted, filled with unique imagery, and enhanced by symbolism which brings it alive on new levels, it overwhelms the reader with its impact and approaches classical tragedy as the inevitable, doom-filled events play out. Though the novel includes peripheral political issues of the day--Mexico's instability and the philosophical conflicts between fascism and socialism--it is primarily a variation on the story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man--full, rich, dense, and rewarding, despite its pervasive sadness.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition is unreadable!, 1 April 2012
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I read Under the Volcano years ago and loved it then. So I was looking forward to reading it again on my new Kindle. But the Kindle edition has not been produced to an acceptable professional standard. I am most irritated by the changing size of the typeface and the equally variable line spacing. Most of it is close to large print, meaning you get about two paragraphs per page. I want my money back!
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Warning: verbal eruption, 8 Sep 2009
By 
reader 451 - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I know it's incredibly pretentious, arrogant even, to give the lowest mark to a classic, the 'prophetic book for a whole generation', a novel Burgess himself called a masterpiece - or so it says on the jacket. But be warned. Lowry himself conceded that Under The Volcano 'gets off to a slow start' (I quote the introduction).

It isn't just a slow start: it never starts. The novel has Geoffrey Firmin, ex-English Consul in a secondary Mexican town, drink himself to perdition on the very day his divorced, sluttish but repentant and benevolent wife comes back to be reunited with him. That is it; there is nothing more. Of course, the best plots are psychological. But Under The Volcano doesn't delve into psychology; it is a manifest, a book about fate, about self-destruction as philosophical act. Thus its dialogues are stylistically indistinguishable from the rest. Its setting, Mexico on the day of the dead, 1938, gets pages of description but fails to relate to the plotline; this might as well happen anywhere. And it is all told a year after the fact, leaving no room for a protagonist's inner struggle. Indeed, my impression is that Under The Volcano's refusal to tell a story in the accepted sense was the very reason for its popularity.

This might still be fine if the writing weren't so confused. Page upon page follows, without a paragraph break, of disjointed text and run-on sentences, forcing the reader to go back again and again to follow the narrative. At times, the novel turns into a patchwork of overlapping monologues, mixing half-baked political and literary expatiation with background noise and the Consul's alcoholic cravings. Accretive writing, I think it has been called. Other authors can be purposely hard to follow: Faulkner, for example, or some Virginia Woolf; but there is a point to their chosen style, which is to mimic the inner voice, to plunge the reader straight into the characters' mental machinery, enabling these characters to tell their tale in a manner that feels raw and real. Lowry's writing achieves no such thing. It is mannered and wooden, an indulgence - the writer's, not the reader's. Art for art's sake. Perhaps, finally, Under The Volcano's textual agglutinations are meant to simulate inebriation. If so, I know easier ways to remind myself what inebriation feels like. Oh well, I guess I am just not an intellectual after all!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'One cannot live without love', 1 Mar 2009
This review is from: Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
The quality of Mr Lowry's prose is exceptional and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which is set in Mexico on The Day of the Dead in the late thirties. Who writes as well today? Most recent Booker winners compare unfavourably with this 1947 work which describes Geoffrey Firmin's battle with alcoholism and attempts at reconciliation with his wife. The horrors of the delirium tremens are evoked through brilliantly effective stream of consciousness passages.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 18 Aug 2000
This review is from: Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Malcolm Lowry sacrificed almost everything - his mental, physical and financial, perhaps even spiritual, well-being - in order to produce this, a masterpiece of such immensity that it belongs with the 'pantheon' of twentieth-century literature: Ulysses, The Magic Mountain, Naked Lunch, Gravity's Rainbow. It tells, quite simply, the inevitable decline and eventual death of Geoffrey Firmin, an ex-consul living in Mexico and also, the seeds of his downfall, a chronic alcoholic. Lowry himself was, of course, an alcoholic and, in this book, he takes you inside a self-destructive, but brilliant mind: his own. The nature of Lowry meant that, tragically, this is really the only 'completed' work of fiction he produced: others, such as Dark is the Grave and Through the Panama are incomplete, sporadically brilliant, but undefined, whereas Ultramarine is merely a typical post-university first novel, entertaining, promising, ultimately rather minor. Under the Volcano, though, is too rich, too extraordinarily layered and exciting, its language too beautiful and musical (and flowery, Lowry called it) to adequately reflect in this short review. Read it. You must read it. It will haunt your days and nights. A masterpiece. Full stop.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, dark and uique, 30 July 2004
This review is from: Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
'UTV' is the story of one man's struggle with his own self-destruction. Geoffrey Fermin is the former British consul to a Mexican town in the period preceding WWII. He is hopelessly alcoholic, an addiction that has cost him his marriage (to Yvonne) and his friendships, especially with his half-brother Hugh. The book is set on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican feast day. Yvonne, having divorced Geoffrey and left Mexico, returns to him, worried about his drinking. She finds Hugh (her former lover) already there, visiting for a few days. Geoffrey is, of course, drunk. Over the course of the day, Yvonne and Hugh try to tempt Geoffrey away from the drink, convinced it will consume him, with visions of an idyllic life in Canada, reunited with his wife. Geoffrey is faced with the loss of his self-destruction in exchange for redemption, and is forced to question whether that is something he really wants, or whether embracing his own tragedy wouldn't be preferable.
Although this rehash of the storyline may not sound particularly gripping, Lowry manages to turn this simple premise into a titanic battle for one man's soul. There is a Faustian element to the story. We know Geoffrey's past holds a terrible secret (possibly the murder of many prisoners when he was a ship's captain) and that his pact with alcohol is his only way of surviving with his guilt. He has sold his soul to the bottle and feels that he can't or shouldn't escape before the price is paid. The diabolic theme is continued with the Mexican town turned into a vision of hell on the Day of the Dead, and a deep ravine running through it, a constantly menacing presence, is referred to as the 'Malbolges' (a reference to the deeper levels of hell in Dante's Inferno). So Geoffrey is in a hell of his own making, and surviving it by a Faustian pact with alcohol. These weighty themes make one man's struggle with booze feel like the coming of an apocalypse, and the book gets darker and more ominous as the end approaches, replete with violent storms and nightmarish imagery (a corpse being robbed by the side of the road, a crazed stallion running through the tempest). It suddenly feels like the whole world is about to cave in, and that Geoffrey's struggle is far more than one man's attempt to rescue himself. It is the sort of writing that the word 'powerful' was invented for.
Geoffrey's story is, more or less, Lowry's. The power of the writing is in part due to the fact that Lowry faced much the same battle, and ultimately lost. Details such as the Mexican town, the shack in Canada and the despairing wife are all taken from his own life. One of the great strengths of the book is the amount of understanding the reader is given about Geoffrey's attempt to embrace his own destruction, and this is surely because Lowry was feeling much the same when he wrote it. There is a scene in a Cantina late in the book where Hugh and Yvonne almost convince Geoffrey to go to Canada, but he suddenly wells up with anger and tells them that he will destroy himself however he chooses. I nearly stood and cheered that he had stuck to his guns, despite knowing that he had effectively chosen suicide over the chance of a happy life. This, to me, is a testament to Lowry's brilliant realisation of his character and his ability to communicate it to his readers.
This isn't a happy book, and I suspect that it will be appreciated much more by those with an element of Lowry/Geoffrey already in them. The writing, however, is brilliant: dark and menacing but at the same time witty and shot through with gallows humour. This means that it never feels like an unduly heavy read. I think that this a great piece of writing from one of literature's most enigmatic figures, and is unlike anything else that I have ever read.
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Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics)
Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) by Malcolm Lowry (Paperback - 3 Feb 2000)
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